Christian Horner has affirmed that Red Bull Racing expects 'nothing less' of Sebastian Vettel next year than what the impressive German delivered during his maiden full season in the top flight with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008 - which suggests that the energy drinks-backed outfit finally has its breakthrough victory in its sights.

Vettel has graduated to the 'parent' concern after a year spent honing his craft at STR, with his stunning triumph in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza - becoming the youngest man ever to prevail in the sport - the undoubted highlight of a campaign that was sparkling enough to see the 21-year-old rated best driver of the year in a Crash.net readers' vote [see separate story - click here].

With comparisons already being drawn between the man from Heppenheim and his legendary compatriot, the record-breaking, seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Horner admits that hopes are high.

"Nothing less than what he did this year!" Red Bull's team principal told Crash.net Radio when asked what he expected of his new charge in 2009. "As a race-winning driver he is a great asset, and I think he's a really exciting prospect.

"We'll certainly be pushing as hard as we can - that's what we try to do at every grand prix - and the whole team are focussed on having the most competitive car in Melbourne as we can possibly achieve."

The bulk of development testing for the new season, indeed, will now fall upon Vettel's shoulders following team-mate Mark Webber's leg-breaking accident during his Pure Tasmania Challenge, when the Aussie collided with a car whilst on a mountain-biking leg of his annual outdoor adventure marathon. It is a challenge, Horner is confident, with which the former F3 Euroseries Vice-Champion will cope admirably.

"Sebastian will drive the initial development as we kick off into next year," the 35-year-old underlined, "but he's more than capable of doing that. He's already well-integrated into the team and we're really enjoying working with him.

"Mark is in good spirits; he's obviously in good, capable medical hands at the moment. His right leg has been pinned after he broke his fibula and tibia, but it was a clean break and he's started his recuperation already.

"He has the advantage of being immensely fit, which hopefully will help his recovery, and he'll be coming back to Europe and we'll start his rehab in an Austrian specialist clinic fairly shortly. He's targeting early February for when we start testing again - that's his focus at this point in time.

"I think if there's any time to break your leg, the week that he did it in is probably the best one! It's obviously disappointing for him, though, because it does compromise his winter training programme and he's going to have a big challenge with Sebastian next year, but I think he's got the determination and strength of character to overcome this."

Indeed, the great Schumacher broke both of his legs in a smash during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1999 and returned to go on to claim five consecutive drivers' crowns. Moreover, Red Bull has the advantage of retaining the services of the experienced David Coulthard as a team consultant and occasional test driver - which in a period of such dramatic technological upheaval for the sport, can surely not be underestimated.

"I think it's extremely useful," Horner noted of the Scot's continuing presence at the Milton Keynes-based concern. "Obviously his knowledge and experience is considerable after 15 years' driving grand prix cars. We'll have the ability to use him occasionally in testing, and we will draw on that experience. He will dovetail that with his commitments as a BBC commentator, and I'm sure he's going to have a busy year next year.

"Formula 1 is going through changes in terms of its regulations with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology and slick tyres, so it's going to be a considerably different formula and the cars certainly look different, that's for sure, but if we turn out to have a quick car then I'm sure it will be in our eyes a beautiful car!

"We rely heavily on our engine partner Renault regarding KERS, and they're making good progress, so KERS isn't and nor do we intend it to be one of our core competencies. At Milton Keynes we want to focus on designing and building racing chassis'. To partner with Renault regarding KERS made a large amount of sense, so that's what we've done and they seem to be progressing well at the moment.

"Obviously it is a very busy time of year, the new car is well under construction and as I say it's a considerable change to the regulations, which poses significant challenges. Preparations are coming along very well, though, and certainly the group in Milton Keynes can take heart in that the car they designed there in 2008 won a race with Toro Rosso. There's a great deal of confidence and enthusiasm as we look forward to 2009.

"It will be very interesting to see where the teams line up in Melbourne. It's going to be pretty open I think in the early races, and hopefully we can get off to a good start - we have all the ingredients in place. We've got very good people here and we've got strength-in-depth, but we won't know exactly where we are until Melbourne, and even then I should think you'll see things quickly evolve in 2009, so new are the regulations. It's going to be a fascinating season."

by Russell Atkins

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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